Member of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society
"eEurope and eLearning"
Seminar "Education and Public Service Broadcasting in the Digital Age"
Helsinki, 15 June 2001
Ladies and gentlemen,
First I would like to congratulate you on the lot you have chosen.
Your are dealing with information or, more broadly, with something that is immaterial, intangible, rather than physical.
There is a fundamental difference involved. Let me quote some senior consultants: "Sell a thing, and the seller ceases to own it; sell an idea, and the seller still possesses it. Things wear out, information never wears out. A thing exists in a specific place, information is nowhere and everywhere."
One might add: the more you use things, the faster they wear out, the more you use information, the fresher, the better, the bigger it becomes.
The same, I think, applies to learning and education.
The economics of things and the economics of information, the economics of the material and the economics of the immaterial the economics of the tangible and the economics of the intangible, are fundamentally different.
In this respect Europe is undergoing a major transformation. Knowledge and information are increasingly the foundation of economic and social relationships. At the core of this transformation is the rapid growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
At the Lisbon summit in March 2000, Europe's political leaders clearly spelt out the objective that by 2010 the European Union should become the most competitive knowledge based economy in the world.
This includes providing Internet access to schools by 2001 and making sure that all teachers needed are trained to use it by the end of 2002.
Creating, sharing and using information and knowledge are key factors of economic growth and essential for European competitiveness. This driving force of the information society can ensure a better quality of life and work, and sustainable employment.
In the knowledge society, the life cycle of knowledge and skills is ever shorter. This is why we have to invest in human capital and learning technologies to shape our own future. The Commission has recognised this in the eEurope and eLearning Action Plans, which make "investing in people and skills" one of its priorities.
This brings me to today's topic: Public Service Broadcasting and education. And in fact, if we think about the development of the Information Society, television and education are cross-linked in two ways. Television is an important vehicle for delivering digital education. And at the same time digital education will have an unprecedented impact on the future of television.
But let me first say something more about the relation between education, knowledge and the information society in general.
1. Education and the Information Society
The eEurope Action Plan recognises that in the knowledge society, there is a serious risk of aggravating social inequalities or creating new ones. Achieving inclusiveness is therefore a top priority: in fact, it is more than a social objective. It will also represent a major competitive asset, in the sense of "cognitive Keynesianism".
Achieving access for all calls for action in several areas:
Fortunately, modern technologies themselves provide new opportunities to deal with all these challenges and help European citizens integrate better in the knowledge society. ICT technologies applied to distance learning facilitate lifelong learning for all and help prepare the workforce of tomorrow.
But technologies are not enough: politicians and administrations have to take a lead in seeing to it that they are applied in the public sector.
However, widely spread ICT skills are not only an educational or economic issue. There is also the vital question of social equality. Basic computer and Internet skills are necessary to avoid the so-called Digital Divide, society being split to "the have nets and the have nots", - to those who have the resources and skills to use new technologies and those who are left behind.
I recently read an interesting study that explored the factors that explain Internet penetration in Finland. The number of children in the family was more important in explaining the Internet use at home than the income of the family. Whether this was due more to demand by the kids or supply by the parents, was not explained. But what is clear is that Internet comes to homes via children.
This is why all the schools have to be connected.
And this is what is happening. The percentage of schools equipped with computers and Internet connections is now high throughout Europe. According to preliminary findings of a Eurobarometer survey carried out in the first half of the year 2001, 94% of European schools are equipped with computers and 79% are connected to the Internet. These figures only include computers and Internet connections used for educational purposes.
Speed remains an issue though: about two thirds of the schools connected use an ISDN line, while most others connect through a standard dial-up line. For the time being, high-speed access technologies such as ADSL remain marginal for schools.
However the average school in the EU has a computer for every 10 pupils and an Internet-enabled computer for every 22 pupils, although there are discrepancies between the Member States.
And yet, computer skills should be taught at a sufficiently early stage in schools. If the choice of whether or not to study computer science is left too late, it is likely that conventional patterns of cultural and social behaviour will exclude a great number of pupils and students from even thinking about being interested in IT.
2. The importance of television for digital education
The key objective of eEurope to invest in people and skills calls for a radical renovation of education and training systems to respond to new needs. This includes an extensive use of new technologies in the learning process and the availability of high-quality educational multimedia content and services.
New e-learning methods supporting lifelong learning, improving the learning process anywhere and anytime, reaching more people living in rural areas, remote and peripheral regions, reducing training costs and fully exploiting European e-content are keys to supporting Europe's move to an effective knowledge-based society.
Learning technologies and applications will enable effective lifelong learning solutions and will, with its enormous advanced capacity, give support to new paradigms of teaching, learning and research.
Obviously, it is still not clear how these new technologies affect learning processes. I find it interesting to note some research results from the United Kingdom. For example, systems implemented to enhance virtual learning turned out to generate more "real" interaction between students, too.
Let me turn now to the specific importance of television for digital education.
Firstly, everyone has television or access to it. Television nowadays represents a unifying factor in our society. In the fifties there was perhaps a "television divide", but now there is none. It will take some years before we will have a similar situation with respect to information society tools. It is essential to exploit the means we have available now to keep developing our human capital.
Secondly, Digital TV services are important in fighting the Digital Divide. Interactive services that are now only available through computer networks are set to become available through television in future. And this will have wider implications than distance education delivery.
Let me also underline electronic government: as the number of connected citizens grows, so will the incentive for governments and public bodies to offer efficient and diversified online public services accessible to all.
Responsiveness, citizen-friendliness and quality will become new standards. In parallel, government will become more competitive. Old and expensive service delivery methods will be replaced by more carefully tailored and targeted services with significant cost savings and increased efficiency.
3. The importance of digital education for television
What can education do for television? Let me remind you first what I mean by "content". In fact content is a wide and fluid concept and it is quite difficult to arrive at an agreed definition on what exactly content represents.
Nonetheless, to me content encompasses the audiovisual, but it spans also to many different categories like online entertainment, e-commerce applications, publishing, education and many public services. Basically it covers all the information, images, sounds that can be transmitted over the networks.
The production and distribution of digital content on the networks requires more than just technical and computer skills. It is the combination of entrepreneurial spirit, technical skills and creativity that leads to successful products. Yet without proper training, there can be little or no European content. At present the US advantage in skills translates into an economic advantage on the web.
Why am I talking about content in a broad sense? Because it is harder and harder to single out the audiovisual sector and set it strictly apart from other parts of the economy and society.
This is mainly due to convergence, or the possibility to offer the same content over different delivery platforms. And that is exactly what many companies have started to do. This creates competition between sectors that were previously unrelated. Actors in the audiovisual sector can find themselves in competition with Internet service providers and publishers.
Or alternatively, they may team up with them. The merger of AOL and Time-Warner is an example. The "marriage" between Vivendi and Seagram is another.
As the speed of connection increases, the Internet will become an additional outlet for audiovisual products. It is already possible to send and receive audiovisual content via Internet, if sufficient capacity is available. On the Internet, public service broadcasters will have to compete with other content providers in the "battle for eyeballs". Of course broadband Internet connections are still few and far between; only a few percent of Europeans enjoy this luxury.
In this scenario, skills will be the key to success. One of the content companies' main assets consists of human resources and knowledge. This is certainly true for new start-ups seeking to enter the Internet market. In this battle for eyeballs, the organisations that have the best people will win.
4. Interoperability and open standards
I mentioned the convergence that places different distribution platforms on the same market, thus intensifying the fight for eyeballs, i.e. the struggle for market shares. For inclusiveness, however, the crucial point is the total number of eyeballs. To reach all citizens, to cover the whole population, is a social goal that requires a variety of means of connection.
For market actors this is about competition, whilst, seen from the societal side, different platforms are complementary rather than competing. For both reasons it is important that the regulatory framework remains technologically neutral.
Let me illustrate the complementary nature of converged platforms with a simple picture.
If you need to be connected 24 hours a day, a mobile solution may be what you need. But if you want to see Gone with the Wind or Kieslowski's Trois couleurs: Bleu Blanc Rouge you name it you would hardly watch the video on the display of your mobile phone.
Would you like to watch it on your PC, on desktop? Unlikely, I should think. Instead, your home television might be the most tempting alternative. Would that also be the case for e-learning, and if so, how extensively?
One important point in this context is interoperability. We all agree that interoperability is crucial to the development of a successful content industry.
Open standards are key contributors to interoperability. They will provide new means of connection to the Internet, new interfaces with the mobile world. In short: they will enable convergence to happen.
The Commission welcomes in particular the development of the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) standardised by the Digital Video Broadcasting Group (DVB). The MHP platform has been developed by the industry, for the benefit of the industry.
The Commission considers that this voluntary, industry led standardisation is the best process to reach interoperability, and to guarantee widespread implementation of the standard. Given the fact that the MHP standard was agreed on the assumption that its application would remain voluntary, and given the widespread support for it, I see no need to make implementation of the standard mandatory in our Directives, as some suggest.
At the same time, the use of such open standards must be promoted. That is why I have decided to launch a series of meetings with industry to discuss this important issue. The aim of these meetings will be to find market solutions to promote interoperability.
The MHP will soon be used in more and more Member States through commercial agreements. I hope that our promotional activities will reinforce this important move for the successful development of the content industry in Europe.
Finally, I would like to come back to the important issue of inclusiveness in the realm of learning.
The technological potential is there, but we still have to take many steps to maximise the educational potential of digital technologies.
My fellow commissioner Neil Kinnock asked once in one of his most famous television performances in 1987, I quote: "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?"
"Why is Glenys (Mrs Kinnock, and Member of the European Parliament), Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to go to university?" (end of quote)
Many of us, and I for one, who were the first in our families to go to university share these questions asked by Mr Kinnock some 15 years ago.
This is fundamental. Education is the key to equal entry levels.
"For every student who gets into Harvard", reads an article about e-learning in Forbes, the American business magazine, "for every student who gets into Harvard, a hundred more could handle the work. Why should they be denied?"
I firmly believe they should not.
That is why we have the eEurope Action Plan, that is why we have the elearning Action Plan, and that is why we have to live up to our commitment.
Let me draw some conclusions on what I said above:
Thank you for your attention.